When acquiring an apartment community, a property management company should take the time to consider whether or not there's capacity for it to improve that property's overall performance.
After all, if the goal for any acquisition is to ultimately make a profit, shouldn't it be clear that there's an opportunity to do so?
In this active acquisition market, highlighted by a 3-month period earlier in 2021 where more than $53 billion was spent on multifamily real estate transactions, it's valuable for property management companies to have a rigorous evaluation process of prospective apartment communities because it can bring to light issues that may be causing the property to underperform.
In this blog, we're going to specifically focus on how to evaluate a prospective apartment community's website and digital advertising strategy. A poor marketing presence is a clear sign that a particular property is being held back from attaining long-term success, which should be seen as good news to you, the buyer.
Video: How To Evaluate The Marketing Of A Possible Apartment Acquisition
It should be fairly easy to tell right away if a prospective apartment community's website is high or low quality.
Why is this? You, like most Internet users in general, have set high expectations for on-page experience (hence why Google has made it one of the top signals within the search engine’s ranking algorithm). Therefore, an evaluator should study the website as if they're personally looking for an apartment themselves. Is the process of actually renting one of the apartments presented in a manner that's easy and seamless? Is it possible to gather all the details necessary to make the decision to rent the apartment based on the information and media content featured on the website?
At RentVision, we believe that apartment websites that provide a great user experience include a mobile-friendly design, floorplan-specific pages, walkthrough video tours, great media content, straightforward pricing and availability, and strategically-placed Calls-To-Action. Each of these essentials work in tangent to create a successful onsite experience, and make up the core of the templated design we build for our own clients’ apartment community websites because they automatically facilitate the lead-to-lease generating process.
We recommend that evaluators use those essentials as rubrics. If an apartment community's website lacks one or more of these features, your property management company should be more confident in the acquisition because you know that improving the website could positively impact future revenue and performance.
Here's what to assess in each of those categories as you review a prospective property's website:
Our current data across hundreds of clients’ community websites show that approximately 70% of all website visitors are from mobile devices! With this in mind, it is vital to check both the desktop and mobile version of the community’s website. The two experiences should translate seamlessly between devices and have the same functions present. If not (or if there’s no mobile site available), then that apartment community’s site may not be easily accessible for a majority of its target audience.
While many apartment websites do offer a breakdown of each of their floorplans (or a diagram at the very least), most still don’t build their sites with dedicated pages to each individual floorplan that lets prospective residents gather all of the detailed information they’re seeking for that individual floorplan.
After all, they want to know everything about a single floorplan—not about every floorplan that a community has to offer—as they likely have their mind made up on the bedroom count and rough size of a unit they are looking for. These pages should include the layout, photos, walkthrough videos, unit amenities, pricing, and availability.
Check and see how they present their floorplan information. Is it all in one spot? Secondly, is it hard to navigate to? If you see photos, do you know which floorplan you are looking at?
Walkthrough Video Tours
Being able to see videos of units has become an expectation for apartment shoppers. This convenience allows prospects to see the inside of the units and amenities at an apartment community they're interested in from the comfort of their couch, which accelerates the leasing process. An apartment search can be incredibly time consuming and website features that save a shopper time will be much appreciated.
The first thing to check, then, is whether or not the apartment community’s website utilizes walkthrough video tours. If not, you clearly know there’s an issue. If they do have them, though, are they featured for every floorplan? Do they actually show the inside of units, or is it more of an overview of the community and/or neighborhood area?
Being able to make this distinction is important because simply having video doesn’t mean they’re necessarily helpful or match the needs of prospective residents. At RentVision, we pioneered walkthrough video tours that provide viewers the desirable perspective of feeling like they’re actually ‘walking through’ the specific type of unit they’re interested in themselves, which we believe is more effective than community or neighborhood videos.
Great Media Content
It’s important that the videos and photos featured on the apartment community’s website are visually appealing. This is because the part of the brain that is responsible for seeing is also responsible for making decisions.
Unit photos or videos shot with an iPhone may give an idea of what your apartments look like, but they could be shaky or not well-lit. Those imperfections would be visible to the eyes of prospects, who react differently when viewing media content that's been professionally produced and edited.
The other key thing to look for here is to see how well the media is organized and featured on the website. Do they have photos and videos dedicated to each specific floorplan that are labeled accordingly, or did they just put a bunch of random media content on one dedicated gallery page? This is a key question because prospective residents can be easily confused about which photos or videos feature the floorplan or unit they’re looking for when media content is presented that way on a website.
You could significantly improve website user experience by pivoting to featuring great media content on floorplan-specific pages.
Strategically Placed Calls-To-Action
This means having visible prompts throughout the website where a prospect can either call, email, or schedule an appointment with the leasing agents at the apartment community in one click. Without them, the website is unable to truly work as a lead-to-lease generator because prospects will have to take additional steps to figure out a way to contact that community.
For evaluation purposes, it’s again wise to try and look at the website as if you were the prospective resident wanting to rent an apartment and see if it has strategically placed calls-to-action that make it quick and easy to start the leasing process.
Digital Advertising Strategy
At some point during the acquisition process, there will be an opportunity for the buyer to see a financial review of that apartment community. In it lies a key number that will help the evaluation process of that community's marketing: the amount the management team at the property has (or, in some cases, hasn't) spent on digital advertisements.
Knowing that number is helpful because it enables you to easily discern whether or not the amount of money spent on digital ads resulted in the online visibility the previous management company had hoped to earn.
The other value of reviewing a community’s ad spend is seeing a breakdown of the various marketing channels they’re funding. One specific thing to check for is if they’re paying for one or more ILSs. That’s because the more they’re spending abundantly on an ILS, you will have the opportunity to save money because there are better, affordable strategies to advertise apartments than simply relying on an ILS to generate leases for you.
Even if you don't happen to know a particular community’s ad spend, you can still do a quick Google search of it by name and do an audit of all of the links on the first few pages of the search results to get a sense of its digital ad strategy. Was the apartment community’s website prominently featured, or were there a slew of Internet Listing Service (ILS) or competitor property links above their link? Was the paid ad link at the top of the search engine results page for a different website? Is it difficult to find the correct website for those apartments?
If any of the answers to those questions above are yes, you can assume their digital ad approach is ineffective and that prospective residents interested in that community are having a difficult time finding its website (which, again, is another area where you know improvement is needed).
You should also check to see if there are remarketing campaigns in place for the community. These are the display or text ads that follow you on other websites after you’ve visited that apartment community’s website, and they’re enormously valuable in keeping your particular apartments front of mind for prospective residents during their apartment search.
After you’ve evaluated the website, keep an eye out for these types of ads popping up as you continue on with your web surfing and visit other pages. If you’re not seeing any, you know there’s an issue you can fix. There may also be a problem if you do come across one but it’s not very well designed or doesn’t have great media content included—this is also a contributing factor of an ineffective ad strategy.
Taking the time to fully evaluate the website and digital advertising strategy of an apartment community your property management company is planning to acquire is a worthwhile endeavor. It brings to light any areas where improvement would be needed. It also builds confidence for the buyers as they could benefit financially by taking over an apartment community that has been underperforming historically because of those marketing issues.
For more helpful insights on the acquisition process, download and read our ebook The Complete Guide To A Multifamily Property Management Transition by completing the form below.